On Saturday night, Auburn will battle Penn State in its first road game of the season. Recent memory shows that in its first true road game of the season, Auburn has typically struggled. What must Auburn do to reverse this trend? Taking a look at each road-opener of the last decade, a story unfolds and some common themes are revealed. Here's a look back at the Auburn's first road games from the previous 11 seasons.
2010: 17-14 win over Mississippi State:
Fresh off a home-opening win over Arkansas State, Auburn traveled to Starkville to play Mississippi State on a Thursday night. Auburn tallied all of its points in the first half, and relied on Nick Fairley to come up big in the second half. Fairley grabbed the one interception of his career and recorded two and a half tackles for loss in the game. Though Auburn scored both its touchdowns through the air, it used the running attack to move the ball, totaling 190 rushing yards. The Auburn defense pitched a fourth-quarter shutout to escape Starkville with a win.
2011: 38-24 loss to Clemson
Auburn jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead against Clemson, but was unable to maintain it. The offense found success running the ball with sophomore running back Michael Dyer. Dyer had 150 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but the Auburn defense could not keep up with Tahj Boyd and the Clemson offense. Sammy Watkins had 155 yards receiving and two touchdowns as Clemson totaled 624 total yards of offense, including 386 through the air.
2012: 28-10 loss to Mississippi State
In Auburn's worst season of the decade, the Tigers traveled to Starkville and immediately showed signs of what the rest of the season had in store. Auburn's lone touchdown of the game came off a kickoff return to open the second half. Kiehl Frazier threw three interceptions and the offense failed to eclipse 100 yards rushing. The offense turned the ball over five times and never game themselves a shot to win the game.
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2013: 35-21 loss to LSU
In a season that wound up being one of the most memorable season's in program history, Auburn's first road game did not go as planned. Auburn lost the game in the first half, falling into a 21-0 deficit early. Even with a good second half, the Tigers were never able to get back in the game. The offense moved the ball well but three turnovers, including a dropped punt from punter Steven Clark inside the ten, proved costly for Auburn.
2014: 20-14 win over Kansas State
The Tigers' first road game of the 2014 was the fourth all-time meeting with Kansas State. Auburn traveled to Manhattan, Kansas, to play the Wildcats on a Thursday night and came out victorious a season after playing in the national championship. This was one of the few games that Auburn did not run the ball well but still got the win. Auburn relied on the arm of Nick Marshall, who threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns in the close win. The defense had a standout performance, forcing three turnovers, including a fourth-quarter interception from Trovon Reed.
2015: 45-21 loss to LSU
After loads of preseason hype for Auburn and members of the Auburn offense, the road opener at LSU quickly put an end to that hype. LSU ran riot on Auburn accounting for 411 rushing yards. The Auburn offense was only able to muster 260 total yards with a lot of that coming after the game was all but over. The week before, Auburn had just squeaked by Jacksonville State in overtime and was in need of a drastic turnaround in hopes of saving the season. It did not happen here, and Auburn went on to rotate quarterbacks throughout the year.
2016: 38-14 win over Mississippi State
This game against the Bulldogs was Auburn's best road-opening win, as the Tigers dominated every facet of the game. Auburn poured in 35 of its points in the first half and defensively shut down Mississippi State. Kamryn Pettway ran for three touchdowns and even defensive tackle Montravius Adams got on the scoresheet with a scoop-and-score touchdown. Quarterback Sean White managed the game well, tossing for 204 yards and a touchdown as he let the run game do its job.
2017: 14-6 loss to Clemson
Auburn traveled to then-ranked No. 4 Clemson in an evening matchup and was shutdown offensively. The offense only put together 117 total yards and Auburn's Jarrett Stidham was sacked 11 times by Clemson. Nevertheless, Auburn still had a chance to win it. Auburn forced two turnovers and got stop after stop trying to give the offense a chance to capitalize, but it never happened.
2018: 23-9 loss to Mississippi State
After losing to LSU at home a couple weeks prior, Auburn still had hopes of making it to the SEC Championship game. It overcame similar obstacles the year before, but first it needed to defeat Mississippi State. The Tigers had their chances, but could not take advantage. A fumble on the goal line and an overthrow on a trick play foreshadowed the final result. The Bulldogs ran all over Auburn, with Nick Fitzgerald breaking Tim Tebow's all-time SEC rushing record for a quarterback while Auburn only ran for 90 yards.
2019: 28-20 win over Texas A&M
With a week one neutral site win over Oregon, Auburn made its first true road appearance in College Station against Texas A&M. All eyes were on quarterback Bo Nix for another matchup in a hostile environment. The game plan suited Nix well this game, Auburn relied heavily on the run game to move the ball. Auburn settled for just 106 passing yards, but ran for 193 yards as a team. The Aggies made it a close game late in the fourth quarter, but the defense did enough for the first three quarters to lead Auburn to a win.
2020: 27-6 loss to Georgia
With College GameDay rolling into Athens, Georgia, confidence was high among Auburn fans as the Bulldogs had some uncertainty at quarterback coming into the game. But Georgia put an end to that confidence immediately, jumping out to a 24-0 lead. All composure for Auburn was out of the window after that. Auburn's bread-and-butter, the run game, failed them. The Tigers combined for just 39 rushing yards in the loss.
What does it mean?
When Auburn was victorious, the defense allowed an average of 16 points per game. In Penn State's big win against Wisconsin in week one, the Nittany Lions scored 16 points. The magic number for the Auburn offense could hover around 17 to 20 points scored if the defense shows up like they are expected to. In games that Auburn lost, the offense averaged just 14 points per game. That will most likely not be enough for the Tigers to win.
Auburn has only scored double-digit points in its first road game once in the last four seasons. So how does Auburn find ways to score in such a hostile environment? When the Tigers won these games, there was one consistent concept, it ran the ball.
Auburn leaned heavily on the running game with 185 rushing yards per game in the wins. In losses, the offense only averaged 124 rushing yards.
The Auburn running back room is undoubtedly its greatest strength on offense. With one of the best running backs in the country in Tank Bigsby and developing freshman Jarquez Hunter, Auburn will certainly look to establish the run game especially after Penn State allowed Wisconsin’s top two running backs to run for 177 yards on four yards a carry.
This sets up well for Auburn as nearly the entirety of the rest of the offense still has questions to answer. Can the offensive line and wide receivers step up? Can Nix flip the script on his previous road performances? It will all be known when the Tigers and Nittany Lions battle at 6:30 p.m. CST on Saturday.
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